Turbulent times: Anxiety about Indonesia


Its been more than 2 weeks since my last post. I’ve been overwhelmed by my job hunt in Indonesia so there hasn’t been any stimulation to write despite collecting compelling articles and pictures to post. My title suggests that I am anxious to move to Indonesia as someone like me who has lived in America may have developed such emotions. But, that is not what I am trying to convey. Instead the anxiety that is occupying within me is the result of the uncertainty if my career will continue in Indonesia as planned.

Since January, my guess is that I emailed more than 20 applications or cold emails to various organizations operating in Indonesia that address community development, poverty alleviation, governance reform and environmental justice. I cannot fathom how many messages I sent through Linkedin directed to people in various positions at organizations I am interested in like the UNDP, UN Habitat, Mercy Corps, etc. I even created a short video about myself for a non-profit in Bali. Unfortunately, my application was not considered. My only hope so far is an environmental consulting firm called Leafplus, an NGO called The Partnership and a research institution called Center for Innovation, Policy and Governance. My plan is to move to Indonesia by next month but it is still in the air as if one of these organizations accept me, I’m holding my breathe on the outcome of a working permit and a temporary residence visa as an expatriate. My expectations were never prepared for the visa situation because it never occurred to me that it would be a difficult process as many of my non-Indonesian researcher friends told me it was not.

The situation gets more complicated as I just started a job at the historic Caffe Mediterrenum in Berkeley busing tables, washing dishes and occasionally cook or work behind the register. So it will be difficult for me to give my notice to my boss who has been gracious enough to give me the opportunity despite a very short stint. It gets even more sticky as my membership at a new cooperative household, that I helped shape, will have to end after only living there for 6 months. Although my date for departure is not set, a member that will be leaving the house must give 30 days notice and find a replacement. Therefore, being in this limbo is a difficult one as I want to stay as much as I can but I need to be respectful of the bylaws we agreed upon. In the end, I have to choose what is best for me and leave my friends that I have learned to love as well as had the chance to exchange ideas on politics and social justice. For the moment, it looks like my plan is to move to LA to be with my family that I have missed until a call for Indonesia happens.

You may ask why am I so set upon Indonesia? As an (International) Development Studies major at UC Berkeley, I studied how power structures have been constructed to create the world we live in separating societies we have come to know as “developing” and “developed”. Gaining an education in this study, has given me a toolkit to critically deconstruct and find solutions to issues relating to “development” in the sense of spaces and places (ie: cities, states, countries, etc.). For example, I have learned that we should not use the terms “Developing” or “Developed” because it implies that spaces we call nations progress in a linear fashion and having an endpoint. I can go on about this in another post but for time sake it is suggested and better to use terms like “less-developed” and “more-developed” as these co-notate relativity. Again I will explain another time. So with that said, having this foundation, I find it less useful to implement it in the US as there is already a burgeoning civil society with plenty of knowledgeable folks who are passionate on the welfare of America. However, in Indonesia, despite an already existing community of folks working on the grassroots level in solving the country’s issues, it is a very very small one as this line of work is not as respected yet to the level it is in America. With that said, I believe my skills and experience would better serve working in solidarity with the people I share my heritage.

My goal in working in Indonesia, at least for the moment, is to gain one to two years of experience in the country to understand the social, political and economic climate. It is a dream for my parents and myself to be accepted to a competitive graduate program. My mom, a typical Asian parent, has always envisioned me since I was in preschool to obtain a Master’s degree. She has been so fixated upon the idea as I believe it stems from the idea that graduate degrees equals success. It equals “having made it” as in many working class families, education is the key for social mobility. It never dawned on me that I would be able to reach such an accomplishment until I was accepted to Berkeley. Ever since then, my goal was to make my mom proud as most children would like to do. Moreover, I believe that in order to shape a competitive application, having the opportunity to set foot in my field of study in my country of focus is key to getting a nod by the admissions officer.

I honestly don’t know any other Indonesian-American who is so invested upon going back to Indonesia to help the country. This is why it has became my focus night and day finding individuals who may have answers or advice to share. Those who go back are Indonesian citizens who may not be able to help because they do not share the experience as I do trying to find an opportunity in Indonesia as a foreigner. Also they are going back to work in the business, tech or engineering sectors which already has a path set up and I am not interested. For that reason, my current experience has made me understand why people don’t like going through the path with most resistance. Trailblazing is hard, after all there is none or at least very minimal infrastructure to help you. Therefore, I am relying on contacting and meeting folks in any shape or form who would be gracious enough in lending their knowledge and time in guiding me or share some advice. Honestly, I believe it is worth the struggle because I know I have a lot to offer to communities and folks in Indonesia, whether it be my time or my experience I can share as an equal to help improve their lives together.